Theologians Debate Whether Gift of Healing Has Ceased

Dr. Michael L. Brown, a foremost Messianic Jewish apologist, believes the gift of healing continues in a powerful way, while Dr. James White, a director at Alpha and Omega Ministries, says the gift was to establish the authority of the Apostles at the time. Their debate was streamed live Saturday.

We find in the Old Testament, beginning with Exodus 15:26, that God revealed Himself as Israel's healer, the divine physician of the nation, said Brown at the start of a live debate on Saturday evening.

God promised that if they walk in obedience to Him, He would take sicknesses from their midst, he said.

Deuteronomy 28 talks about covenantal curses, which included severe sickness and illness, and healing was a covenantal blessing, explained Brown, whose nationally-syndicated radio show, "The Line of Fire," airs throughout the United States.

Healing was, of course, not automatic, but it was a good thing promised by God, Brown said. Sickness, on the other hand, was generally associated with sin and disobedience throughout the Old Testament, he added, citing Psalms 6, 30, 41 and 103 as examples.

When Jesus came, He expanded on these things, Brown went on to say. "He brings healing to the sick and demonized. And what's interesting is, often in the New Testament there is a connection between demons and disease. It's not to say if you are sick now, you're there for sin or demonized... However, we do know that sickness, sin, demons are often associated together as negative things, negative conditions, negative aspects of life."

Therefore, Jesus, moved by compassion, drove out demons and healed the sick, Brown stated. "God still heals today, moved by compassion. And not only so, He heals the sick as an indication that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world... This is the Gospel being demonstrated."

Jesus came in the power of the Spirit, for which the Greek word, "Dunamis," is used. That word is often used to refer to divine healing power. "That's the same Spirit that is being poured out upon us," Brown said.

In James 5, we find that praying for the sick was just a normal way of life, he added. "And we can see without question that healing was not limited to the Apostles."

We see throughout the New Testament as well as in the early church history that the gift of healing continued in a powerful way, Brown stated.

White agreed that we do see healings in the New Testament, but argued that it is not seen throughout that period.

Acts 3 says people in Jerusalem placed sick people on cots in the streets so that when Peter passed by his shadow might fall upon them and bring about healing, said White, who has taught Greek, systematic theology and apologetics at numerous schools. "Is that what we see at the end of the New Testament? Is that what we see as the normative experience of the Church throughout the ages?" he asked.

Paul advised Timothy to have a little wine for his illness, he pointed out. Paul also said he was given a "thorn in the flesh," he added.

Do we see what was happening in Acts 3 – at the time when there was a need to establish the authority of the Apostles – continuing in the pastoral epistles through any kind of instructions as to how to deal with the continuing prevalence of healing in the church? "Instead, we have Paul talking about how to take care of the widows," White said.

White also said Brown's position is not the same as that of many faith healers who say it is always God's will to heal anyone if she or he has enough faith. There are people who have built entire ministries upon making that assertion, he said.

"God does heal, but He heals freely in His own way," White stated.

Brown responded by asking, "If the Book of Acts is trying to show us that something is waning, why is it then Paul in the last chapter of the Book of Acts bringing healing to every single sick person…?"

But it was not automatic, that you push a button and you're healed, he clarified.

The quality of the Spirit has not changed that healing will cease, Brown argued. The directive in James 5, which says if you are sick call for the elders, is quite general, he said. But it does require faith; we should come with expectation.

If we look into church history, Brown continued, Augustine had dismissed the gift of healing and miracles until he saw them happening. In a couple of years, 70 miracles changed his view, he said.

Brown added that the medical science and doctors were never precluded in the Old Testament or the New Testament, and hence Paul's advice to Timothy to have some wine.

White agreed we see people being healed, but added that we also see very faithful people not being healed. Besides, God uses suffering in this life to conform us to the image of Christ, who was a suffering servant, he said.

Those who claim to have the gift of healing are not the elders in a church, while the command in the Bible is, call for the elders for a sick person, White contended. He added that he differentiates between what the Apostles did, which was to establish their authority, and what their successors do.

On Friday, the two theologians debated on the issue of predestination, dwelling on whether Jesus died for the sins of the entire humanity or only for the elect.